America's child poverty rate remains stubbornly high despite important progress

January 31, 2018

January 31, 2018 -- While many American families have experienced economic gains in recent years, children are still most likely to live in households too poor to cover their basic needs, according to new research from the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. Using the latest available data from the American Community Survey, NCCP researchers found that children make up around a quarter of the U.S. population, but represent more than a third of the nation's poorest residents. According to Basic Facts about Low-Income Children, the center's annual profiles on child poverty in America, some 41 percent (29.8 million) of America's children were living on the brink of poverty in 2016 -- including more than 5 million infants and toddlers under age three.

"Overall, we've made important strides when it comes to alleviating poverty in America, but our data show that those gains have been slow to reach society's youngest members," said Renée Wilson-Simmons, DrPH, NCCP director. "Right now, the child poverty rate is heading in the right direction--down--but children still make up an outsized share of our nation's poor. Anti-poverty efforts like food assistance, public health insurance, and other programs are helping millions of children and families to thrive. But that also means our beliefs about what poverty looks like in America -- about who deserves access to those programs and supports -- have the power to help or harm their chances for success."

Available online at, the Basic Facts about Low-Income Children fact sheets illustrate the severity of economic instability faced by low-income and poor children throughout the United States. NCCP defines a poor household as one where incomes are below the federal poverty threshold (i.e., $24,339 for a family of four with two children in 2016). Families with earnings less than twice the poverty threshold are considered low income and include poor families (i.e., $48,678 for a family of four with two children in 2016).

According to NCCP researchers, the number of children in low-income families decreased from 33.2 million (44.9 percent) in 2010 to 29.8 million (41.2 percent) in 2016, and the number of poor children in the U.S. decreased by nearly 2 million (3 percentage points). Their report also showed that 2 million fewer children lived in deep poverty in 2016 compared to 2010. NCCP defines deep poverty as earning less than 50 percent of the poverty threshold (e.g.,, $12,170 for a family of four with two children).

"We're seeing promising movements in the year-to-year measurements of child poverty and economic stability," added NCCP director of Family Economic Security Heather Koball, PhD. "But while the number of children experiencing poverty is on the decline, the rate of poverty for kids still remains stubbornly high, compared to the size of the population. Children are also more likely to suffer the material hardships associated with living in poverty; the anxiety, depression, and constant stress of being financially vulnerable leaves a lasting mark on children as they grow to adulthood, affecting earnings potential and health outcomes as adults."

Published annually since 2009, Basic Facts about Low-Income Children presents demographic characteristics and socioeconomic conditions of poor and low-income children in fact sheets for children under age 18 and for those age 9 and younger. Fact sheet data are widely cited by policymakers, researchers, advocates, and the media. NCCP's annual fact sheets on child poverty in the United States are available online at

These are some of the findings in the 2018 edition of Basic Facts about Low-Income Children: Koball added, "If anything is clear from these statistics, it's that a rising tide does not lift all boats when it comes to our young people. That's why we simply cannot afford to be anything less than intentional with the policies that shape the resources available to these families and, by extension, their chances for success in the long run."

NCCP researchers also announced the launch of an updated online tool--the 50-State Policy Tracker--for comparing state economic assistance programs. Available online at, the policy tracker can help identify best practices to alleviate poverty by comparing safety net policies, revealing variation among states, and modeling how policy choices can help low-income working parents succeed in making ends meet.

The NCCP 50-State Policy Tracker makes it easy for policymakers, journalists, social researchers, and advocates to quickly and accurately compare state policies and programs vital to the well-being of low-income families. It includes key state data for 10 important social programs: The 2018 update to the tracker revealed wide variations across several states in areas known to promote family economic well-being:Users can select from more than 40 other policies for comparison in a single state, across states in the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West, or across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. A glossary provides users with additional information on how the ten programs work and defines the categories used to compare programs across states.
To speak with an NCCP expert about the poverty profiles or the updated NCCP 50-State Policy Tracker, contact Tiffany Thomas Smith, communications/media relations consultant for the National Center for Children in Poverty, at 443-986-5621 / Part of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) is the nation's leading nonpartisan public policy research center dedicated to conducting research and delivering actionable recommendations that advocates and policymakers use to improve the lives and futures of low-income children and their families. Visit NCCP online at Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter via @NCCP.

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

Founded in 1922, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Mailman School is the third largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its over 450 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change & health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with over 1,300 graduate students from more than 40 nations pursuing a variety of master's and doctoral degree programs. The Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers including ICAP and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

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